World Day Against Death Penalty
The death penalty in Ghana has been frequently used in violation of international law and standards, affecting predominantly those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, as shown by research carried out by Amnesty International. It is high time the authorities of Ghana acted to fully abolish it.
In Ghana the death penalty has been imposed mainly as the mandatory punishment for murder, meaning that judges were unable to consider any mitigating factors relating to the case, the circumstances of the offence or the background of the defendants at sentencing, when they imposed the death penalty. This has meant, for example, that some women on death row could not have their experience of being subjected to prolonged domestic violence at the hands of their husbands or partners taken into account when they were convicted of their murders.
The widespread concerns on the lack of effective legal representation and appeals described by many on death row is also greatly alarming, including as these are critical safeguards to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty and avoid miscarriage of justice. Around three-quarters of the 107 people on death row interviewed by Amnesty International in preparing its 2017 report, had a state-appointed lawyer at trial level, with only around 15% able to hire a lawyer of their choice with help from their families. Three men stated they did not have any legal representation during their initial trial; of the three women on death row at the time of the interviews, two said they did not have a trial lawyer. Several others said that their lawyers had not attended all the hearings; and many said that they did not have a chance to talk to their lawyer and prepare their defence during trial.
As appeals are not mandatory in Ghana, the majority of those on death row told Amnesty International that they had been unable to appeal their convictions and death sentences. Most did not fully understand their right to appeal or how to pursue this process, and believed they needed to have sufficient money to hire a private lawyer in order to appeal. Figures provided by the Ghana Prison Service (the Prison Service) in March 2017 indicated that only 12 prisoners on death row had filed appeals since 2006. None of the three women on death row had been able to file an appeal due to lack of money. One woman told Amnesty International that at the time a lawyer asked for 60 million Old Ghana Cedi (more than US$12,000) to file an appeal.
It comes as no surprise that in a legal system with so few built-in safeguards those who end up carrying the burden of the death penalty have disadvantaged backgrounds. The majority of the 107 people interviewed came from outside of the greater Accra region, had minimal educational levels and were from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, with children left in the care of others. Against international safeguards, six people on death row at Nsawam Prison were considered to have mental (psychosocial) or intellectual disabilities and were not supported through specialized care.
Conditions for men and women on death row do not meet international standards. Both men and women reported overcrowding, poor sanitary facilities, isolation, and lack of adequate access to medical care and to recreational or educational opportunities available to other people in detention. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.
This post is reproduced from Amnesty